First Click: The Apple TV changed my mind about gaming

November 4th, 2015


“I hate video games,” I wrote last year on the pages of The Verge dot com. “I hate how my obsessive gameplay disrupts all other aspects of my life. So I quit.” People lost their shit. “What kind of idiot hates video games!?” howled the deeply-concerned-but-not-really-caring tweets in response.

I used to game. My last console was the original Xbox, purchased after a series of exploits were discovered that turned the cheap, powerful PC into an XBMC media center. I’d game in between soft-modding consoles for friends and family — flesh dusted orange by Doritos, stomach burning from too many liters of Coke, playing Splinter Cell and god knows what else into the early hours of the morning. But I was also a single father of two very young boys who needed my undivided attention, not some half-awake man-child fantasizing about his next sniper campaign. So I quit, disgusted with myself and my skewed priorities — a feeling I ultimately projected onto gaming itself.

My opinion changed over the weekend after I brought home an Apple TV.

First I downloaded a few apps — YouTube, Air Video HD, Netflix, NFL, Airbnb — before noticing Crossy Road, the multiplayer game demoed at the announcement of the new Apple TV. So I bought it out of curiosity. It wasn’t long before my seven-year-old daughter joined in on the giggling, and then my wife. I figured out how to do multiplayer with my iPhone and soon we were competing, erupting in a riot of laughter as we played.

Then my oldest son came home — he’s 14 now, 11-years older than those forlorn Xbox days. He was impressed by Asphalt 8, but not the Apple TV controller. So an hour later I was back at the Apple store purchasing an MFi controller (yes, the SteelSeries Nimbus) for easier drifting. My 13-year-old son soon came home and schooled us all, which was fine — we were having fun playing video games as a family, something I’d forgotten was possible in my post-Xbox shame.

Gaming snobs have already told me that what I’m playing aren’t "real games" because those require a "real console," meaning, a PS4, Xbox One; or better yet, a dedicated PC. That’s silly of course, and reminds me of a certain class of threatened Symbian and Windows Mobile users who laughed off the iPhone because it wasn’t a "real smartphone." A semantic argument that's ultimately meaningless. I can see that Apple TV gaming is different, but that doesn’t make the fun we’re having any less real or any less competitive. Just as the iPhone was announced as "an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator," the Apple TV is more than a single device. It’s a gaming console, a media streamer, and a lean-back platform to run living room apps.

Hardcore gamers tell me I’ll get "bored" by Apple TV games. But I can’t see how. For every $59.99 Halo 5 purchased I can buy a dozen games typically priced around $2.99 (like Does not Commute TV) before topping out at $9.99 (like Beat Sports, the number one selling app on Apple TV). And developers will certainly be motivated to make even more seeing as how 15 of the top 20 grossing apps on Apple TV are all games. I spent over $20 on games during the first weekend alone.

The Wii also enjoyed a fairly intensive honeymoon period with owners. But unlike the Wii and the ill-fated Ouya, when I do grow weary of the current crop of games, I can still use the microconsole to run living room apps, or stream media from Apple sources or BitTorrent's thanks to apps like Plex. I can always return to gaming whenever the next big game arrives.

Like most things in life, moderation is key and I don’t want myself or my family getting drawn into the obsessive timesuck of MMOs like WoW, MOBAs like Dota, or whatever the hell you call games like Minecraft. It’s my responsibility to make sure my kids don’t let gaming consume them in the way Xbox play consumed me. So I’ve set some fairly strict rules: 1) gaming is allowed on weekends only, and 2) another family member or friend must be physically present. Harsh, I know, but it’s my house and my rules, as my own father was fond of saying.

So yeah, I’m a gamer again, playing real games on a real console, casual and different though they may be.

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